Music plays a major role for a lot of young people and this technique uses this interest as a resource. Most mainstream music displays heteronormative and binary assumptions about gender (if not straight out sexist) in its lyrics, and young people often do not know about possible alternatives. The aim of this technique, therefore, is to raise awareness about gender stereotypes in song lyrics and to inform YOU*TH about alternative lyrics that work against such stereotypes and discrimination.
The examples given here are all song lyrics that critically engage with gender stereotypes. The analysis of the lyrics is the centre of this exercise. However, the form of a visual representation of the music video could also be included in the discussion. The aim is to discuss widespread, accepted habits of listening and viewing music and moving images and open up new angles of consuming music. Depending on the chosen song and the group’s interests, the workshop leader can place different emphases.
Put simply: heteronormativity means that heterosexuality — i.e. the attraction felt to so-called “the opposite sex” — is considered to be the norm. Therefore, heterosexual people are regarded as “normal”, while homosexual people are perceived as a deviation from normality. 1
The technique is suitable for different group sizes; depending on the number of the participants, the questions can be either discussed with the group (with less than 6 participants) or the large group has to be split into smaller groups.
NB: Please be aware that sometimes, one song should be repeated to be understood properly. Therefore, plan this extra time!
Depending on the interest of the group and the thematic focus, the facilitator chooses one song. The exercise can be introduced as follows:
“Who of you likes to listen to music? Which music do you like? Today, we will listen to music and watch a music video, and we will engage with both the lyrics and the visual interpretation of the song. Together, we will watch a video and listen to the music and after this, you will discuss in small groups what you have seen and heard. You will all receive a printed version of the lyrics since we focus on the words as much as on the music and the images.“
After this introduction, the questions for the analysis will be presented to the group:
What is this song about?
What stands out?
Do you have any questions? Is there something you did not understand?
Who is represented in the lyrics and the video?
How is each of them represented?
What is your opinion regarding the lyrics/video?
Subsequently, the trainer plays the song, if needed; a second time. The participants receive a copy of the lyrics and discuss the above-mentioned questions. Please be aware that repeating the questions as well as engaging with the participants can be useful.
The exercise will be finished in the large group, where each group has the opportunity to say one or two sentences about their discussion. The workshop leader presents the CV of the artist and gives further information if needed.
“This technique is a useful door opener to the next step, which means that participants are invited to write their own alternative lyrics about gender roles, relationships, and non-violent communication. If you want to go even further, you can also actually write a song and/or produce a video!“